David's Blog

On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest.  Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!

" The thing that most motivates me to have this in the public eye is, if the state of Tennessee can do this to me, what’s to stop it from doing this to others?”






Sports agent claims Yankees prospect Justus Sheffield's family stiffed him over commission: 'It's been a nightmare' 

JUN 16, 2018 | 12:00 PM  

Sports agent David Sloane says he was at a crossroads in his career by the time he first started following the Tennessee-born brothers, Jordan and Justus Sheffield, both pitching aces from Tullahoma (Tenn.) High School.

Jordan, the older of the two Sheffield boys and a right-hander, was a player that first caught Sloane’s interest through the Perfect Game online scouting service in 2012, and late that summer, the Florida-based Sloane reached out to the Sheffield family -- father, Travis, and mother, Misty -- to explore representing their oldest son. The Sheffields have three boys, the youngest named Jaxon.

Sloane says he was told by the Sheffields that Jordan was already represented by agent Darek Braunecker, but the family agreed to meet with Sloane nonetheless, in Jupiter, Fla., where a tournament was taking place.

“I thought the conversation was good,” Sloane says now. “(The Sheffields) asked me to send more information, and in early 2013, I met the family in Tullahoma. It was the parents, both boys and me, all gathered at the kitchen table.” Sloane says he left that meeting upbeat, and he continued to keep an open communication line to express his interest.

A month later, Travis Sheffield put his then 17-year-old son, Jordan, on the phone to talk with Sloane.

“I’ve thought a lot about it, and I want you to represent me,” Jordan said, according to Sloane.

“I felt pretty good,” says Sloane, who entered the sports agency business back in 1973, and has represented over 100 clients, one of the biggest being former Mets and Blue Jays slugger, Carlos Delgado.


But what transpired after that phone call in 2013 has generated anything but good feelings for Sloane. Although Sloane also eventually represented the lefty Justus Sheffield -- now one of the Yankees’ top pitching prospects who came to the Bombers in the July 2016 Andrew Miller trade with Cleveland -- Sloane says he ultimately got stiffed by the Sheffield family. In particular, Sloane says he did not receive his full commission from Justus after the southpaw signed with the Indians in 2014 and received a $1.6 million signing bonus.

Sloane ended up filing suit against Justus in Arizona state court for breach of contract -- a case that Sloane lost after the suit was dismissed. Sloane’s legal woes continued to snowball, as he was later fined over $50,000 by the Tennessee secretary of state’s office in a separate matter. The civil fine stemmed from a Tennessee administrative judge ruling that Sloane violated the Tennessee Athlete Agent Reform Act of 2011, which requires sports agents to register in the state before initiating contact with a student athlete. Sloane did get the fine reduced to just over $10,000 after he says he was able to prove Jordan Sheffield had violated NCAA rules. Two court filings -- a petitioner's (state of Tennessee) notice to withdraw charges, and a judge's ruling earlier this year -- show Sloane's fine reduced.

Sloane, 66, is appealing the Tennessee judge’s ruling and fine, and the case is still open. But in the fallout, Sloane says everybody made out well except for him.

“Where’s the damage? Jordan got to play three years at Vanderbilt (before being drafted by the Dodgers in 2016 and receiving a $1.8 million signing bonus). Vanderbilt got to avail themselves of his abilities. Justus got to sign with Cleveland for $1.6 million. Tennessee got its money from me when I did register,” says Sloane. “I got fined over $10,000. I would venture to say the only person damaged was me.”

"I would venture to say the only person damaged was me.”




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Sloane says that the Major League Baseball Players Association, which monitors and regulates agents, and which has the ability to certify or decertify agents, failed to support him in his case with Tennessee. Sloane also claims that before the judge in the Tennessee matter issued her ruling, the case was stacked against him. Now he’s out the remaining $33,000 he says Justus Sheffield owes him; there are the legal costs Sloane had to fork over in his Arizona breach of contract suit; and Sloane could be out another 10 grand if he loses his appeal in Tennessee.

“It’s been a nightmare ever since Jordan said he wanted me to represent him,” says Sloane.


Sloane says he represented Jordan Sheffield in the 2013 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. Despite having Tommy John surgery that year, the righty was drafted by the Red Sox in the 13th round. But the money Boston was offering wasn’t enough for the Sheffields, Sloane says, and Jordan elected to go to Vanderbilt instead.

In October 2013, while Jordan was at Vanderbilt, Sloane traveled to the Sheffield’s home in Tennessee to reiterate his interest in representing Justus, the 2014 Gatorade national player of the year. Sloane says he apologized to the family then for having missed a showcase in Minnesota in which Justus had pitched. Sloane attributed the absence to a family matter. “I hope you don’t take that absence as a lack of interest,” Sloane says he told the Sheffields.

“Justus was deadpan throughout the whole time and then he smiled and said, ‘I’ve already been telling scouts you’re my agent,’” Sloane says Justus told him. “Justus pulled a funny.”

Sloane says he returned to Tennessee in March 2014 to see Justus play in some games, with the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft right around the corner. While he was in Tennessee, Sloane says Travis Sheffield told him about another player he might be interested in meeting. Sloane agreed to see the player, and Sloane says it was only then that he first learned that he had to register in Tennessee as an agent. The father of the player Sloane was to meet asked Sloane if he had registered.

“No, I didn’t know you needed to,” Sloane says he told the father. Sloane adds that the Sheffields never told him about the need for registration in the state, but after Sloane learned about the requirement, he says he immediately sent in the necessary forms and $500 fee within a 10-day period.

The Indians selected Justus Sheffield in the first round of the ‘14 draft with the 31st overall pick, but at that time, Sloane says he only had an oral agreement with the Sheffield family regarding Sloane’s commission. Any written contract signed between an agent and an amateur athlete before the athlete is drafted or signs a written contract with a team, voids the player's NCAA eligibility. Sloane says that agents advise amateur players all the time prior to the draft, and that oral agreements are not uncommon.


The Indians wanted to bring Sheffield to Cleveland for a ceremony to introduce their first-round choice and have him sign a contract, but Sloane says he had advised the family before the draft that Justus should sign any contract in Tennessee, where there is no state income tax.

When the Sheffields went to Cleveland for the press conference, Sloane says he met the family there – on his own dime -- and sat with them in a Progressive Field suite. It was during that trip that Sloane reiterated to the Sheffields that they had agreed to an oral agreement to pay Sloane his five-percent fee. “I hope you’re happy with the job I did, and that you’re comfortable paying me the commission,” Sloane says he told Travis Sheffield. Sloane says he asked Justus, “You’re fine with paying me ($81,000)?” Justus said yes, according to Sloane.

“I never got a signed contract from them,” says Sloane. “They lied to my face and stabbed me in the back.” Sloane adds that Travis Sheffield transferred $48,000 (3% of Sheffield’s signing bonus) to Sloane’s account, but not the total $81,000 (5%) that he says he and the family had agreed upon.

Compounding matters was that Justus (now 22) would be issued a check from Arizona, where the Indians assigned him after the draft. Sloane says he advised the Sheffields that when Justus paid his 2015 taxes, he should have his accountant send a letter to Arizona officials outlining that the money Justus earned was for signing a contract -- not for any work -- and therefore shouldn’t be subject to tax.

“Why should Justus have to hire an accountant?” Sloane says Misty Sheffield asked him.

Later that year, when Justus was in Arizona playing in the rookie league, and Sloane says he was in the state for other business, Sloane says he spoke with Sheffield by phone to resolve the money issue. Sloane says the relationship with the Sheffields had already frayed. Sloane was originally scheduled to meet Justus for lunch in Arizona but decided to resolve the matter over the phone.

“I’m expecting you to live up to the commitment we agreed upon,” Sloane says he told Sheffield. The pitcher responded by telling Sloane that he was following his father’s advice. “I have to do what my father is telling me. Please talk with my father,” Justus said, according to Sloane.

“His daddy and mommy were still doing his thinking for him,” says Sloane. He adds that he told Sheffield, “You gave me your word.” It was the last time Sloane says he spoke with Justus.

Sloane then filed suit against Sheffield in Arizona that October, and he says that the two attorneys who represented him in the matter were “incompetent.” The first lawyer, Sloane says, was disbarred after representing Sloane. The second attorney he retained, Todd Schultz, failed to show up in person at a hearing to present oral arguments on the defendant’s (Sheffield) motion to dismiss, according to Sloane. A video of that hearing that is on YouTube clearly shows the plaintiff's table vacant except for a speakerphone. Schultz participated via phone and profusely apologized for his absence. The case was originally supposed to go to arbitration, and court records in Maricopa County (Ariz.) show the case was dismissed in May 2016 without prejudice.

“(Schultz’s) efforts could not have been more detrimental to me and more beneficial to Sheffield,” says Sloane. “At no time did he come up with any argument to counter the Athlete Agent Reform Act.”

Gregg Clifton, a principal at the Jackson Lewis Phoenix law offices, represented Sheffield in the matter.

“The law in Arizona at the time of the Sheffield signing, as in most states that have specific agent laws, was very clear,’’ Clifton told the Daily News. “You must be registered with the state in order to work as an agent and any agreement that an agent enters into with an amateur athlete must be in writing and contain very specific, statutorily mandated provisions in order to be enforceable.’’

Sloane’s case was dismissed, but not before it triggered scrutiny into Sloane’s agent relationship with the Sheffields in Tennessee. Sloane ultimately got hit with the civil fine. In a court filing in the Tennessee matter, Sloane alleged that Justus and Jordan Sheffield’s current agent, Bo McKinnis, helped send information to the Tennessee secretary of state, Tre Hargett, about Sloane’s violation of the Tennessee Athlete Agent Reform Act. In the Arizona case, Justus Sheffield had denied Sloane's allegation in an answer to the verified complaint.

“They lied to my face and stabbed me in the back.”




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Travis, Justus and Jordan Sheffield did not return messages from the Daily News for this story and McKinnis did not return a call. Schultz also did not return a call for comment.

According to Tennessee statutes, Justus could have requested a refund for the $48,000 he paid Sloane since Sloane was in violation of the Tennessee Athlete Agent Reform Act, but the pitcher did not pursue a counterclaim. Baseball sources say it was an ill-advised move for Sloane to sue Sheffield. Sloane says his regret is that the lawyers he retained, including Schultz, failed to advise him as to whether he had a strong case.

“I believe in standing up for myself,” says Sloane. “I lived up to all of my commitments to Sheffield and I wish he had lived up to his commitments to me.”

Sloane represented himself in the Tennessee matter. A year after the Arizona case was dismissed, Sloane was fined $50,740 by Secretary of State Hargett. Sloane said in a petition for judicial review that Hargett had stated in a 2011 press release that the Athlete Agent Reform Act “isn’t widely known.” Sloane also alleged in his defense that Jordan Sheffield was in violation of NCAA laws prior to Sloane representing him. Sloane presented scouting reports from the Tigers and Diamondbacks to establish that Jordan was represented by another agent before Sloane made any contact with the pitcher.

According to Sloane’s petition for judicial review in the Tennessee case, he received a curious response to his request for information in the first hearing for his case. Tennessee Administrative Judge Elizabeth Cambron replied, “I thought this hearing was only to determine if you had registered and how much I was supposed to fine you.” Sloane included the judge's remark in his petition, and he says that the remark was an indication to him that his due process rights were being denied.

Sloane was able to compel some evidence for his defense. In one email exchange between McKinnis and Kevin Rayburn -- a lawyer for Secretary of State Hargett -- that Sloane obtained and used in his defense, McKinnis outlines the background of Sloane’s representation of Justus. But at the end of the email, McKinnis writes to Rayburn: “Don’t know if you recall, but we are hoping you will write Sloane a ‘tough guy’ letter pointing out his violations of the Tennessee laws.” Sloane says the evidence was deemed irrelevant.

Rayburn no longer works for Hargett’s office. A spokesman from Hargett’s office told The News in an email: “We cannot comment on ongoing litigation.”

Sloane reached out to MLB Players Association attorney Robert Guerra last year, but Sloane says he received no assistance. A union spokesman sent the following statement: "Mr. Sloane was not acting in the capacity of a certified MLBPA agent when he was fined by the state of Tennessee in connection with the recruitment of an amateur athlete. As a result, the PA declined to get involved in his challenge to the penalties imposed on him. Mr. Sloane is no longer a certified MLBPA agent and he has not represented a Major League player for three years."


Sloane slammed the union in response. “I disagree with union’s position. Their position is inconsistent at best and self-serving and disingenuous at worst,” says Sloane. “I have paid thousands of dollars to become and remain certified. I was told those fees were to be used to pay for the union monitoring the conduct of the agent community.

“They’re at least tangentially responsible for what goes on in the agent business as they have power to certify and decertify agents. This lack of assistance is not at all what I’ve seen them render to bigger agencies that have encountered issues in the conduct of their business,” adds Sloane.

He also points out that the union went to bat for players Brady Aiken and Jacob Nix -- two players originally drafted by the Astros in the 2014 draft -- despite the fact neither was a union member. The union filed a grievance on behalf of Nix after Players Association executive director Tony Clark hinted that Houston had engaged in “manipulation” during the negotiations of both players. Non-union members are not covered by terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

“The union decided (it) could not help me because Justus is not a union member,” says Sloane. “I'd call that blatant hypocrisy. The union also stood up on behalf of agents accused of much more serious offenses than I am accused of. They allowed me to twist in the wind.”

In the Tennessee ruling against Sloane, the judge states that Sloane “admitted that he conducted no research prior to initiating contact with the Sheffield family to determine whether Tennessee had a requirement that he register as an athlete agent.” The ruling also states that Sloane “failed to exercise due diligence.”

Sloane says he did comply with the state laws, and that despite "hundreds of baseball players from Tennessee who have utilized the services of an agent," he was singled out by the secretary of state. "No law has ever been passed for the purpose of facilitating a vendetta against a private individual as so blatantly has occurred here," Sloane says in his petition. He adds that he is done with the agent business, but that he will get some measure of redemption. "Last I checked, karma is undefeated," Sloane says.

“No one from the MLBPA or anywhere said to register,” he adds. “I wasn’t caught. I was informed of the need to register, and I immediately did so. The thing that most motivates me to have this in the public eye is, if the state of Tennessee can do this to me, what’s to stop it from doing this to others?”






“I got out of the agent business because I was tired of swimming in a sewer."

For those not aware of the nuance of the Agent business, it is standard practice that an Agent does not sign a contract with an Amateur player unless and until he signs a contract with the team that drafts him.


Why a baseball agent is leaving the industry over $33,000: 'Tired of swimming in a sewer'

Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports Published 2:12 p.m. ET June 3, 2018 | 

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — It was the baseball draft that was supposed to rejuvenate veteran agent David Sloane’s career, representing a premium high-school pitcher who’s a top prospect today, only to wind up taking on costly legal fees, ongoing court battles, and leading him right out of the business.

Sloane, a baseball agent since 1974, says he is leaving the industry, enraged at New York Yankees top prospect Justus Sheffield, furious at the state of Tennessee, and exasperated with the Major League Baseball Players Association.

“I didn’t get out of the agent business because I was a bad agent,’’ Sloane tells USA TODAY Sports, “I got out of the agent business because I was tired of swimming in a sewer. It’s a horrible (expletive) business. I probably should have walked away 10 years ago. You sweat blood for these 18-year-old kids who have so much smoke blown up their ass they could become a chimney. They’re on the cusp of greatness, and on the brink of making good money, and then they stab you in the back.

“It pisses me off seeing agents whose only notable skills are their ability to bribe players with gear, hookers, steroids or training facilities, making 10 times what I ever made, despite the fact that they have never negotiated anything remotely approaching a contract that broke any kind of new ground in their entire career.’’

Sloane, 66, represented about 125 major-league and minor-league players during his 43-year career, including All-Star Carlos Delgado, who earned about $147 million. He says he may advise one last player in this year’s draft - which begins Monday - but will no longer pay dues to remain certified.

“I’m not slinking away,’’ says Sloane, “but walking away with my head held high. My decision to turn away is not just motivated by my distrust over having to deal with people like Justus Sheffield, but motivated by my potential in a new venture.’’

It was Sloane’s relationship with Sheffield, 22, representing him when he received a $1.6 million signing bonus in 2014 as a first-round pick with the Cleveland Indians, that began a four-year legal dispute that still has not ended.

It started after Sheffield paid Sloane $48,000 - a 3% cut for his services - only for Sloane to accuse Sheffield of short-changing him by $33,000 for a 5% fee. That led to Sloane filing a breach of contract lawsuit against Sheffield, which led to the state of Tennessee filing four complaints against Sloane and a $50,740 civil penalty, which led to Sloane informing Vanderbilt University that his older brother, Jordan Sheffield, violated NCAA bylaws by having another agent represent him during his collegiate career, which led to Tennessee reducing the civil penalty to $10,740, which led to Sloane filing another appeal.

“I’m looking for a white knight,’’ Sloane says, “who realizes the wrong that has been done here and would like to correct an unjust and abusive power. The secretary of the state is not empowered to conduct vendettas. This is not justice, this is about revenge.

“It’s a witch hunt.’’

And, to think, it all started when Sloane thought he struck gold by representing Sheffield, the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year, going 11-0 with a 0.34 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 61⅔ innings as a high school senior.

“I wish I had never heard the name, 'Sheffield,' ’’ Sloane said. “It has eroded my faith in human nature to a degree I can’t even put in words. I’m rooting for karma now.

“Look, if he becomes the Cy Young Award winner next year, it’s not going to ruin my life. But him stabbing me in the back the way he did is his loss. I’m the best agent he would have had. I’m as good as there ever was.’’

Sheffield, who’s 1-3 with a 2.03 ERA, striking out 57 in 44⅓ innings at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, declined comment, with his family saying simply that it’s a closed matter. Several agents and an attorney familiar with the case also declined to comment publicly.

The dispute began when it came time to collect his fees for Sheffield’s singing bonus, Sloane says. He said Sheffield agreed to be charged the standard 5%. Yet, after Sheffield was paid, Sloane said he received $48,000 and not $81,000. He voiced his objection to Sheffield, and when Sheffield refused to give him more than 3%, Sloane filed a lawsuit in the state of Arizona.

And lost, with the case dismissed.

“The law in Arizona at the time of the Sheffield signing, as in most states that have specific agent laws, was very clear,’’ said Gregg Clifton, the lawyer who represented Sheffield from the firm of Jackson Lewis and himself a longtime agent. “You must be registered with the state in order to work as an agent and any agreement that an agent enters into with an amateur athlete must be in writing and contains very specific, statutorily mandated provisions in order to be enforceable.’’

It was a case that never should have been filed, several agents and union representatives said, with Sloane having virtually no chance of winning.

And once the state of Tennessee was made aware of it, a complaint was filed against Sloane for violating a law requiring agents to register with the state when representing Tennessee athletes.

“How is it right that the secretary of state should be able to use his office for exacting his revenge against somebody?’’ Sloane said. “The one thing I did was that I didn’t register with the state before saying I worked to represent Sheffield.

“They didn’t say I bribed him. Or I stole money from him. Or that I caused Vanderbilt to forfeit scholarships and championships and victories. I did next to nothing wrong. All I did was fail to register. And as soon as I became aware of this law, I registered immediately and paid the $500 fee.

“If there is going to be a consequence, it should be something along the lines of what a speeding ticket should be.’’

Sloane will be around if anyone needs advice, and now that he’s leaving the business, he’s unafraid to talk. He’ll tell you how the union’s strategy in the last collective bargaining agreement was severely flawed. He wonders if it’s even possible for the union to recover its lost power. And he wonders if leadership change is needed.

“This was a slow-motion train wreck,’’ Sloane says, “and whoever didn’t see it coming was blind. This (CBA) is messed up in so many ways. I hope the meals these guys are getting in the clubhouse are worth the millions they gave up.

“The union has done an extremely poor job of reading the tea leaves foretelling what was going to take place, and understanding what the unintended consequences might be. It’s really an uphill climb now. Are the owners going to scrap the luxury tax? Are they going to scrap the draft system that so favors the clubs? That’s not going to happen.

“Where is the leverage on the players’ side now? How do you go on strike when players will never get sympathy from fans when average salary will be over $4.5 million?"

So, is a union leadership shakeup needed?

 “There are countless people out there who would love to have the job," he says, "and the people that are running the show aren’t doing the job so well.’’

It’s no longer Sloane’s problem, and after 43 years, he’s walking away and refuses to look back.

“I’m going to be a lot happier not having to deal with the back stabbing that goes on in the agent business,’’ Sloane says. “You look around, and the overwhelming majority of an agent’s clients are players they stole from somebody else. The union doesn’t do anything to stop it.

“It’s like steroids. I remember telling (former union chief) Don Fehr that I have a player that says he’s the only one on the team not using steroids. Don told me, 'This is not something that concerns us. We don’t handle that. It’s a privacy issue.’

“It was ignored, of course, and not long after that the whole thing blew up.

“Well, after 43 years, I’ve had enough. I wasn’t a big-time agent. I wasn’t relentless as a self-promoter. But I had a significant career.

“Now, others can have this. I’m out of this sewer.’’

Stabbed in the back.

I would correct this article as follows:

1) There was no "badgering" of Sheffield's Father. I spoke to him three times over 2+ weeks. Every time I spoke to him, he promised to pay me. Every time it was a lie.

2) I aplogize to all bastards for using Sheffield's name in that context. True bastards have no choice in being born out of wedlock. Justus Sheffield had a choice to do the right thing or to stab me in the back. He chose to let his Mommy do his thinking for him.

3) The writer did not mention that the first lawyer who (mis)represented me was disbarred as a result of his incompetence and the second lawyer who(mis)represented failed to show up for the hearing to defend me against the Motion to Dismiss my suit.

4) NOBODY should be subject to a corrupt State official misuing the power of his office to conduct a vendetta against anyone.



Agent blasts top Yankees prospect: ‘Stabbed me in the back’

David Sloane, a longtime agent, represented Sheffield and his brother, Jordan, when the two were drafted. He hasn’t spoken to either since 2014, a result of a legal dispute that resulted in Sloane throwing up his hands and recently deciding not to renew his MLBPA certification, as he first told USA Today. Sloane has been in the industry for decades, representing roughly 125 major and minor league players, most notably Carlos Delgado.

Justus, Jordan and their father, Travis, did not respond to phone calls and text messages from The Post.

When Sheffield was picked in the first round of the 2014 draft by the Cleveland Indians, Sloane negotiated a $1.6 million contract with the understanding, he said, that Sheffield would give him a standard 5 percent commission. That money never came.

Sloane’s agreement with Sheffield was only verbal. He calls that standard practice among agents representing amateur players — a result of NCAA regulations that could see a player declared ineligible — instead waiting until a player signs with a team before officially signing a contract to represent them.

“He used that consideration on my part to stab me in the back,” Sloane told The Post in a phone interview.

After badgering Sheffield’s father, Sloane was given $48,000 — which represented 3 percent. When he next talked to Justus, Sloane accused him of withholding $33,000 and threatened to sue.

Sloane did eventually sue Sheffield, for breach of contract in the state of Arizona, and lost — which Sloane blamed on his lawyers.

Sloane thought that would be the end of it, but a year later, he was notified that the state of Tennessee was fining him $50,740 for violating the Uniform Athlete Agent Act, which requires agents to register with the state when representing athletes.

Sloane managed to get the fine reduced from $50,740 to $10,740 by showing evidence that Jordan Sheffield violated the same law by having an agent while pitching at Vanderbilt. Still, Sloane plans to appeal again, and holds nothing back in his assessment of the Sheffields.

“[Justus] could have easily stood up and said, ‘You know what, Mom and Dad, I understand you’re looking out for what you think are my best interests, but I gave David my word, I believe he did a good job for me, and I’m going to do what I agreed to do,’ ” Sloane said. “But then, he allowed himself to act like a child and let Mommy and Daddy run his life.”

"What the hell are you doing that for? "






August 23, 2016 Eric Nusbaum


Al Leiter suffered from blisters throughout his pitching career: first as a member of the New York Yankees, then with the Toronto Blue Jays and Florida Marlins, and finally with the New York Mets. (Then, once again, briefly with the Marlins and Yankees.) But when I told him over the phone that I wanted to write a story about blisters, he thought I was crazy.

His exact words: "What the hell are you doing that for? You bored?"

Even in the admittedly narrow context of pitching-related Major League Baseball injuries, there are sexier topics than blisters. Big league pitchers are finely-tuned athletes. Their diets are regimented, their throwing mechanics are biometrically analyzed for inefficiencies. It long has been understood that the act of pitching is unnatural and damaging. Elbow ligaments snap. Shoulders are wrecked. After baseball, arms hang gangly for the rest of pitchers' lives. Professional pitchers go through extensive stretching and conditioning routines to prevent those kinds of injuries. Books are written about those kinds of injuries.

Blisters are not those kinds of injuries. Which makes it seem fairly ridiculous that a professional pitcher can be felled by something as paltry and mundane as a finger blister—something that is, by definition, a surface-level injury. And yet it has happened hundreds of times in MLB, if not thousands. If you throw a baseball very hard for a living, blisters are a ubiquitous workplace hazard.

Pitching is an act of extreme and violent athleticism. But it is also one of extraordinary finesse, especially at the point where the baseball departs from the hand. In order to pitch effectively, you need to be able to release the ball off your fingertips in a specific place, and with a specific amount of pressure, over and over again. When you have a blister, you can't.

"Have you ever had a blister on your foot, and you don't have a Band-Aid, and you're walking, and suddenly inadvertently you're limping because of it?" said Leiter. "You just can't help it. It's impossible to throw a ball if you have a blister. It hurts, it's sore, it's coming off your finger, it starts to bleed."

The most dramatic recent example of how a blister can derail a pitcher is newly acquired Dodgers starter Rich Hill, who popped a blister on the middle finger of his left hand in the first inning of a start for Oakland on July 17. At the time, he was leading the American League in ERA. Since then, he has yet to appear in a game for either Oakland or Los Angeles.

"To miss a couple weeks because of a blister is something else," Hill told the L.A. Timesafter he was traded. "But it's a big part of it. It's like the steering wheel of a car. You need it."

What makes blisters so challenging for pitchers to recover from? Why can't major league teams, with hundreds of millions of dollars and the world's best technology at their disposal, come up with a way to prevent or treat something so small?

As with just about everything else in baseball, there are different schools of thought about the prevention and treatment of blisters. Some of these schools are rooted in science, and others in something more accurately described as folklore. One of the sport's most terrifying blister prevention routines belonged to Hall of Famer pitcher Nolan Ryan, who suffered from blisters when he was breaking in with the Mets.

In 1979, Sports Illustrated's Bruce Newman wrote a profile of Ryan, then in his final season with the Anaheim Angels. The story begins with Ryan, perhaps the most durable pitcher of the liveball era—a man who would go on to throw more than 5,000 innings and dial up mid-90s heat into his mid-40s—taking a surgeon's scalpel out from his locker.

"Ryan went about his work slowly," Newman wrote, "drawing the blade painstakingly down each of the fingers as if he were peeling grapes. With each stroke the knife shaved away a layer of the pitcher's skin, removing his fingerprints, as if Ryan were a thief determined to leave no clues behind."

This is quite the compelling image, and not simply due to the otherworldly pain tolerance that it must require to casually shave your own fingerprints off with a sharp blade. For Ryan, minor self-mutilation was better than the alternative: blisters forming on the tips of his pitching fingers.

Earlier in his career, after a DL stint, a Mets trainer had told Ryan to try drying his fingers out by soaking them in pickle juice, but that didn't work. What worked was the scalpel. So he took it out before every start of his career.

It may seem counterintuitive, but blisters form on the hands and feet because they are the places where our skin is toughest. The type of friction throwing a major league slider requires would simply cause an abrasion if occurred on the skin of your forearm. Instead, on the fingers, that same friction—exacerbated by heat and moisture—causes fluid buildup under the surface.

The top layer of skin gets irritated, then pushes down and disrupts the bottom layer. A gap between them is formed and fills with fluid, and the outer layer of skin degenerates. So you get a big old, tender, watery blister—and when it pops, it takes a bunch of skin with it.

Why are certain players afflicted and others spared? It might be as simple as biology. They sweat more. They have more sensitive skin. Bad luck.

You might think that pitchers whose arsenals require them to place more pressure on the seams of the ball are more likely to get blisters. For example, guys who throw hard sliders or cutters. But when Baseball Prospectus ran the numbers a couple years ago, they found this wasn't the case. The best predictors of future blisters, it turned out, were previous instances of blisters, and a heavy workload.

Leiter recalled his first major league blister, which came on July 21,1988 in Detroit. He was starting for the Yankees in what turned out to be an absolutely insane ballgame—the temperature at game time was 87 degrees.

"Billy Martin was my manager," he said. "It was in Detroit, and I hadn't had a win in a few starts, and it was Monday Night Baseball when they still had Monday Night baseball on ABC. I was facing Jack Morris and we're winning like four or five-nothing, it's in the 5th inning—and the whole thing comes off. (Editor's note: it was the fourth.)

"Mine was always the middle finger, because I threw my four seam fastball, my slider, my cutter off of it. And I started dabbing the blister on my leg because it was bleeding. Billy Martin looked at me and came out and ripped me a new asshole and said, 'What are you doing?' And I'm telling you I was on the DL at least six weeks, maybe two months for ablister, because I never allowed it to heal and come back 100 percent."

This is the kind of pain that Hill is likely feeling now. After repeated attempts at pitching in which he continued to re-aggravate his blisters, the Dodgers sent him to their spring training facility in Arizona, where his fingers could recover in more arid conditions. He is tentatively scheduled to debut Wednesday against the San Francisco Giants.

But one problem for Hill might be that he is—or at least was—going about this the wrong way. He told reporters after the trade that he was waiting for his fingers to develop calluses. That might seem logical: you want your skin to be tough and not break every time you throw a pitch. But calluses can be disruptive as well, by ever-so-slightly altering the way a pitcher releases the ball. And counterintuitively, they can make you even more prone to blisters. Ryan found that calluses made the scar tissue from his previous blisters more sensitive and likely to crack. That's why he shaved his fingertips off before every start.

"The whole misnomer of growing a callus is bullshit," Leiter said "You don't want a callus, because the ball pushes up against the callus and you get a blister underneath. You've got layers of skin. It wasn't the outside that would blister, so now you have the blister underneath the callus and that whole piece of skin would peel off, which is probably where Rich is now."

Mike Marshall, the Cy Young-winning relief pitcher turned kinesiologist, told VICE Sports that ideally, a pitcher should have soft and supple fingertips. He also can't believe that major league pitchers still struggle with blisters, because there's a simple solution.

"Getting blisters is a matter of whether or not they have their fingernails the right length," he said. "It's as simple as that. If the baseball comes off of a fingernail, it creates heat, and that's how you get a blister. You'd think they'd know how to do that by now."

Marshall recommended daily nail trimming, sanding down calluses, and making sure to apply lotion to the fingertips.

"If you toughen up the skin, it's more liable to have a blister or pain than if you use hand lotion, making sure again that the skin is able to be pliable," he said.

The trick, he added, is keeping your fingertips soft, but not allowing them to become moist. It's a delicate balance, but Marshall believes that with proper grooming, every pitcher can avoid blisters.

By contrast, most of baseball's traditional blister remedies are meant to toughen up the skin by drying it out: pickle juice, dirt, placing the hand in a bucket of dry rice to soak up the moisture. Leiter tried all of them to solve his blister problem. He even soaked his fingertips in a cup of his own piss—a remedy that somehow remains popular, and that Leiter said came to baseball from veterans returning from service in World War II.

In the early 2000s, a Dodgers trainer named Stan Johnston, who had been a professional rodeo cowboy as a young man, developed a patented remedy that spread among major league pitchers. He called it "Stan's Rodeo Ointment," and tested it out on pitchers like the Dodgers' Ismael Valdez, who suffered from blisters early in his career.

"I just started mixing some things humans use and some things we used to use on animals," Johnston told the Wall Street Journal. Josh Beckett credited the ointment with saving his 2003 World Series MVP season.

What worked for Leiter was something more akin to Marshall's method. Since friction exacerbates blisters, he did everything he could to avoid it. "You have to limit your throws, with the friction of the seam and the ball on your finger, as much as you can prior to when it actually matters—which is the game."

When he was throwing between starts, or warming up before a game, Leiter would apply a few layers of a liquid bandage product called New Skin to his fingertips. Then he would take a Band-Aid (it had to be the Band-Aid brand; he tried them all), and remove the cotton from the middle, before wrapping it around his fingertip. That layer of protection between the ball and the skin kept the friction down and the blister at bay. Then, the day after he threw, he would take an emery board and file down his calluses.

Not as traumatic as pissing on your fingertips or cutting them off, but it worked.

As for Hill, there is no shortcut to recovery. The only way he can test whether his blister is gone is by pitching. But if it isn't gone, pitching is also the one thing sure to tear his blister open again. That's why his return from the disabled list keeps getting pushed back.

The Dodgers are certainly aware of this dilemma, and were when they traded three of their best pitching prospects to acquire Hill and outfielder Josh Reddick. But despite the considerable acumen of their front office and medical staff, they could not have predicted that nearly three weeks into his tenure, Hill would still not have thrown a pitch for them.

"We don't have an exact timetable on that, but obviously his availability in the short term was an important part of us moving ahead on this deal," General Manager Farhan Zaidi said at the time of the trade. "So we feel pretty good about it, but we don't have an exact date for when he'd be out there for us."

The Dodgers have a decimated pitching staff and are facing a competitive division race. And with Hill a free agent at season's end, they have no incentive to worry about his long-term recovery. All they can do is hope that the skin on his fingertip holds up enough that he can help them now.

Or, if the Dodgers get really desperate, they can turn to history for inspiration. In 1963 and 1964, when Ryan was still in high school, a pitcher named Harry Fanok made sixteen appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals. Fanok was supposed to be Ryan before Ryan. They called him "The Flame Thrower." He was wild, and his mechanics were a mess, but he led his minor league level in strikeouts for three consecutive years in the early 1960s.

"He threw the ball as hard as anybody I ever saw," his minor league roommate Joe Morgan (the utility infielder turned Boston Red Sox manager, not the Hall of Fame second baseman) told historian Rory Costello a few years ago. "There's no one today throwing the ball as hard, even [Joel] Zumaya with the Tigers. You heard me—no one."

Fanok, like Ryan, suffered from blisters throughout his career.

"You hear every now and again where a pitcher can't continue because of a blister on his pitching hand," he wrote in an autobiography for SABR. "Well, it was a rare occurrence that I did not have two blood blisters after warming up for the 20 minutes before going into a game when I was starting. One on my middle finger, and one on my index finger. That'll give you an idea of what kind of friction was being created from letting the smoke fly. Anyway, all I done was to get a needle from the trainer and alcohol. That's it! Drain the fluid and put the alcohol on it and go out and pitch. No big deal!"

Then again, Harry Fanok walked 24 batters in 33 and a 1/3 career innings. Maybe Hill and the Dodgers are better off waiting it out.



“the Red Sox are in a 14-year drought when it comes to drafting or signing and then developing a front-line, homegrown starter.”




Henry Owens’ flop highlights Red Sox’ inability to develop starters

Michael Silverman Monday, August 22, 2016

DETROIT — It’s more than OK to feel sorry for Henry Owens and the eight-run shellacking he received yesterday at the hands of a merciless Tigers lineup.

Sympathy is warranted in the case of a 24-year-old left-hander who has fallen from his perch as one of the top pitching prospects in the game back to a work in progress. Who knows, the 6-foot-6 southpaw might yet synchronize all those octopus-like limbs and take that next step as a starter.

We wish him well.

But let’s not let our compassion for Owens overshadow the ugly and uncomfortable truth that his start represented a stark reminder of how the Red Sox are in a 14-year drought when it comes to drafting or signing and then developing a front-line, homegrown starter.

Look at the lineup the Red Sox fielded and the rest of the pitching staff if you want to understand the stark difference between the club’s success in identifying positional players and its failure to find its own starters.

If you include Hanley Ramirez, seven of the nine lineup spots were occupied by homegrown Red Sox talents: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Travis Shaw, Dustin Pedroia and the latest success, 2015 draft pick Andrew Benintendi, who collected the first triple and home run of his 18-game-old major league career.

Then look at the pitchers.

Besides Owens, there’s Clay Buchholz, the 2005 draft pick who certainly has had his sublime moments in his career but is never to be confused with a Grade-A, front-line starter. He has shown flashes of brilliance but rarely for more than half-seasons — so connecting his name with the word “ace” is unwarranted.

Matt Barnes? He’s a valued reliever now, but there are no plans for him to return to the rotation in the future.

Look at the rest of the staff. Look hard. Junichi Tazawa? Nobody else is there.

Everybody else is an import — via free agency or trade — and since we’re about to leave the Motor City, it’s OK to say there’s nothing wrong with living in a global economic system and making the best with what you don’t got.

Rick Porcello, David Price, Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz — the Red Sox did well to snag those arms by any means and smarts necessary.

But again, had there been any semblance of balance within the farm system since 2002, many of the dollars and resources the team has allocated could have been put to other uses.

Red Sox principal owner John Henry is aware of the system’s failures.

“We are very concerned,” he said. “It’s been a problem. But some of the result of this has been acquiring so much young hitting talent. Nevertheless we have had a string of failures among starting pitchers and we are working hard to remedy this. We have to successfully draft and develop young pitching.”

It’s notable, to say the least, that today in Florida, Jay Groome, the Sox’ 17-year-old first-round draft pick, will make his professional debut for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox.

Considered to be one of the top pitching prospects available in the draft, Groome has some makeup concerns but not enough for the club to let him pass by when the time came.

Knowing he was in the system likely made it easier for the club to send its very best pitching prospect, 18-year-old Anderson Espinoza, to the Padres for Pomeranz.

It is truly wince-inducing to hear Henry confirm yesterday that Major League Baseball is investigating the Padres for perhaps not passing along all the medical information the Red Sox wanted when it came to giving up Espinoza for Pomeranz. The club might yet get some form of compensation on the deal; we’ll have to see what MLB discovers, but the club is not going to get back Espinoza.

There is still Michael Kopech in the system, and he or Groome might yet be the team’s next great pitcher.

That’s real tough to say for sure.

We know Owens used to be that guy.

And yesterday, that guy, in his 15th MLB start, allowed a career-high eight runs and walked five batters, one intentionally.

“I still work tirelessly trying to command the fastball. Been better lately, so I’m not going to be negative here,” said Owens. “I’m going to continue to be positive and work hard and try to find that consistency.”

As Owens tries harder, so too will the Red Sox in their search for the next Owens, the next Jon Lester.

As we know from Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett, imports can work out just fine.

But it’s so much easier when you start from scratch